In a world where the environmental conditions are rapidly changing, how can we adapt our living spaces to last? Richard Halderthay, director of communications at Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland, discusses why sustainability should be at the top of the agenda for the construction industry.

Boundaries are blurring faster than ever in the construction industry: between performance and sustainability and between design and function. Thanks to digital, people all along the value chain have access to more detailed information than ever before, and as a result, are more aware of the spaces in which they inhabit.
This awareness, paired with the growing demand for ‘green’ building and the need to adopt more sustainable ways of living as a whole, means that sustainability should become a priority for the construction industry.
Businesses must be sustainable in order to tackle many of the challenges facing our world, including increased urbanisation, competition for raw materials and climate change. It’s also becoming a criteria by which businesses are judged by their customers, workforce and wider society, as we become more aware of the growing threats posed by rapidly changing environmental conditions and rising energy demand.
Public buildings, including offices, hospitals and schools, must be able to adapt to changing temperatures, weather conditions and increased populations, while at all times keeping running costs to a minimum.
In addition, it is predicted that the global population will demand 50% more energy by 2030, and yet at current rates, we will breach the carbon budget needed to keep temperature rises to 2oC by 20341. Changes need to be made from the very beginning of the construction process, not just at the design stage, but also the specification of materials, to deliver buildings that are sustainable, and cost effective to run.
The evidence is clear: buildings should meet the needs of today’s society, without impacting negatively on tomorrow’s world.
For many businesses in the construction sector, there is a negative view of the cost associated with sustainable building. However, it should be remembered that buildings contribute to as much as one third of global greenhouse gas emissions1, mainly in the operational phase, and innovative materials and processes will help to increase efficiencies, meet changing consumer demands as well as drive down costs.
Digital technology can play a key part in sustainable building. This is why, in spite of the recent introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM) Level 2 across all government construction projects, the industry is already looking ahead.
Level 3, or Digital Built Britain, has the potential to create real learning, informing future design and planning, as well as making building life cycle analysis and whole life costing models much more accurate and valuable. The data exchange process will be based on Level 2, but with more extensive data definitions, which will not only benefit individual projects, but complex data also has the potential to be used to provide asset information for the ‘Smart Cities’ of the future.
On the one hand, rich data models such as BIM could lead to the acceleration and adoption of off-site manufacturing as the efficiencies and economies become too hard to resist. On the other hand, 3D printing technologies may mean some products are manufactured or printed on site and customised precisely to the specific structure. Either way, BIM holds the key to our future built environment.
It’s also important to keep construction as local as possible, not only to increase cost efficiency, but also to stay ahead of the curve as the government’s devolution ambitions unfold. By using local architects, contractors and hired machinery, greater efficiencies during the build process can be achieved, as well as a reduction in waste. As well as limiting environmental impact on site, local economies can also benefit from increased investment and business growth.
To meet the challenges of tomorrow, the construction industry must recognise that sustainability is a collective effort – globally, nationally and locally.
If there is a commitment to, and a real understanding of, the challenges posed by the environment, we can have a significant impact on the built environment within the next decade.